What the hell kind of Jew am I?

I feel pretty strongly that I shouldn’t have to defend my Judaism in order to have my opinions about Israel taken seriously.

I feel pretty strongly about it, but that doesn’t change the fact that I am often called upon to defend my Judaism anyway. And I often go ahead and defend my Judaism anyway, not because it needs defending, but because I hope that the news that I am not, in fact, an apikoros (heretic) will perhaps allow a few new ideas out into the marketplace. Like, for instance, the idea that one need not be an apikoros to criticize Israel.

And so, hereunder, my answer to the occasionally posed questions that boil down to: What the hell kind of Jew are you?

I am an Israeli Jew, married to an Israeli Jew who was born and raised in Jerusalem. I made aliyah as a young woman, and lived in Tel Aviv for 14 years.

I am also an active member of a Chicago-area Conservative shul. I keep a strictly kosher home — which is to say, I have different sets of dishes (and silverware, and pots, and pans, and…) for meat meals and dairy meals, PLUS two entirely different sets for Passover, in keeping with the laws governing the removal of hametz (leavening) from our homes during Passover.

Come to that, I clean like a madwoman in the lead-up to Passover, annually performing the ritual of “selling” my hametz to a non-Jew, and stripping our lives of anything the least bit contaminated with hametz for a week. I cover my hair when I daven (pray), and I study Torah regularly — I’m currently making my way through Everyman’s Talmud; this summer I worked more directly on Pirkei Avot. I don’t work on Shabbat or holidays, and on holidays, my children stay home from school; we attend services in the morning, and share some Torah study in the afternoon. My family frequently speaks Hebrew in our home, and we visit Israel roughly once a year. I feel very strongly that our job in life — as Jews certainly, but also more generally, as people — is to advance the cause of tikkun olam, or repairing the world.

My politics regarding Israel/Palestine stem from all of that — from the tikkun olam stuff, from the ideas held within our rituals, from the content of our prayers, on and on, and perhaps most especially, from my love of Israel. Israel is my home, and I am a Zionist. A two-state solution in which both sides are allowed human dignity and genuine security would not only be good for the Palestinians (who have been suffering under our boot for far, far too long), but it would also be good for the Jews.

I live in what I think of as the gentle exile of American suburbia not because I stopped loving Israel, but because Israel became so deeply invested in maintaining and perpetuating the immoral and indefensible occupation and settlement project that the entire state is now predicated on little else — and my Jerusalemite husband and I didn’t want to raise our Israeli-Jewish children in such a place. Didn’t want to sacrifice them and their lives on that alter, or raise them in a society in which that sacrifice, that immorality, is deemed holy.

I also happen to be a convert. This matters not at all to me — because as far as I’m concerned, I’m not a convert, I’m a Jew — but in the interests of full disclosure, I include that information here. I converted from a place of deep and abiding faith and trust in the Holy One Blessed Be He, and if we believe our stories, I was at Sinai when He gave our people our Law. I like to believe I was standing right next to my husband (who I actually met a week after I converted), holding my kids’ hands.

Slowly but surely, I find myself becoming a bit less of an Israeli Jew, and a bit more of an American one — this is, in no small part, because of the utter contempt with which Israel as an institution treats the Diaspora. I cannot stand it, and so I find myself throwing my emotional lot in, more and more, with my brothers and sisters on this side of the ocean. My respect for the Diaspora has grown enormously since leaving Israel, as I watch people struggle with a language they don’t know in order to maintain ritual and tradition in the face of a majority culture that really has little space for any of it. It’s a tremendous, and highly admirable, feat.

So what the hell kind of Jew am I? I’m that kind of Jew. Now you know. And when this post has been up for a few days, I’ll turn it into a permanent page — that way when the next person asks, I won’t have to say it all again.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.


  1. And my friend, for what it’s worth, you’re my kind of Jew.

  2. socioprof

     /  October 27, 2011

    I could read your writing all day.

  3. corkingiron

     /  October 27, 2011

    In my considered and completely and utterly pagan opinion, you are the best kind of Jew. The absolute humanity “your kind” has represented for millenia. As I’ve said before, Rabbi Hillel would be proud of you.

    • You’re a very nice pagan, and I don’t know what Hillel would think, but I’m glad you think so! : )

  4. Greta Dorfman

     /  October 28, 2011

    Emily, I admire your courage and fortitude, and as others have commented, “You’re my kind of Jew.” After making Aliyah in the 1970s, I left Israel in 1978, only to return 30 years later to try to make a life here again. But I know in my heart that if I leave Israel again, I will not become part of a Jewish community. I will, in fact, do my best to avoid communities that align themselves with Israel and give full support to Israel, because the members of those communities call people like me names such as “self-hating Jew” – because they refuse to be critical of anything the Israeli government does. If I leave Israel again, I refuse to become an ambassador whose position it becomes to defend and apologize for Israel, instead of being able to openly speak out (as I do here) about what is wrong with this society and this government.

    You are doing the right thing, to not raise your children in this atmosphere. I am close to retirement age; my job in the States disappeared, and at my age, I can’t get a job in the States with health care benefits. Instead of doing what my former colleagues have done (use up their unemployment insurance and their savings), it made more sense to move here again, and, yes, pay taxes that support the system here. At this stage in my life, being here makes sense, but I agree it’s not a place to raise children who will get caught up in the machinery and become cogs in the wheel. If your children decide to come here again as adults, I hope they will come with their eyes wide open and will share ideology with which they were raised.

  5. CitizenE

     /  October 28, 2011

    A Jew by genetic inheritance, American Reform Jew by parental upbringing. I believe the agricultural calendar that begins the year in autumn is the accurate calendar, and the moon an accurate cyclical influence. I believe the Jubilee is a sign of human mercy and forgiveness. I do not believe one should be smote for using the wrong incense in the temple. I believe we should leave some of our fruit on the trees for the passing poor. I agree with the great Rabbis that we should leave our houses unlocked and always have. I believe the Days of Awe are a crack in the cosmos through which the mindful may return. I agree with Jesus, if your gosh darned horse is drowning on the Sabbath get off your ass, and save it. I liked when he threw the Pharisees out, and I believe that the so-called Witch’s Sabbaths, including All Hallows Eve, aka The Day of the Dead, are also cracks in the cosmos. I believe the dead are with us, in the grass, the streams, the ocean, the atoms.

    Struck by the Divine at nine years old walking home from school.
    Emersonian–first hand God or no God at all.
    Goddess worship politically.
    Raven, Coyote, Mountains, Desert, Rivers, and the Ocean. The starry sky–Nature is God, God is Creation; there is no separation. If God has human qualities, it is only because humans are a very real shingle of sand on the edge of being. Awe is the mark of religious feeling.
    Taoist for decades–the only book anyone really ever needs to read.
    Buddhist–neither God, nor no God–just suchness. We suffer because we die, grow old, have disease, must abandon our loved ones–God or no God.

    And insofar as credentials are concerned, I agree with Elia Wiesel’s admonition that it is a Jew’s historical and humane obligation to speak truth to power, whether concerning the policies of Israel or those of my own country, the United States, both having served Jews as places of refuge, knowing there is no refuge from history and its upshot.

  6. I have to say that the word “Zionist” has pretty negative connotations for me. Like, the kind of people who say that anyone who criticizes Israel is anti-Semitic. What other kinds of Zionism are there?

    • Darth Thulhu

       /  October 30, 2011

      Those kind of comments are extremist arch-conservative Zionism. Unfortunately, Israel is currently run by extremist arch-conservatives, so it’s sadly the default Zionist setting as a matter of political speech, and has been for a decade.

      Zionism, more neutrally, is just the idea that Jews deserve democracy and a homeland. They deserve better than to be third state pariahs in most Arab and Muslim countries. They deserve better than pogroms and second class citizenship in Europe. They deserve better than the Holocaust. Zionism asserts that to get that better treatment, the Jews require a state where they can find sanctuary from tyranny.

      Zionism is the belief that since being a Diaspora and *only* a Diaspora has historically left Jews vulnerable to oppression and slaughter and coerced expulsion, time and time again, the Jews need a state. Zionism is the belief that since hundreds of thousands of Jews continued to live in Zion in an unbroken line throughout history, the Holy Land should be the location of that state.

      And that’s it.

      Nothing about Zionism *requires* seizing and de facto annexing the West Bank. Nothing about it requires treating Arabs as second class citizens. Nothing about it requires hypermilitarism and religious bigotry. Zionism just believes “hey, those nice Jews that keep getting butchered periodically, they should totally be able to have a state of some kind in the area around Jerusalem and Haifa”.

      The extremist hijacking of that is to pit every single threat to Israel as an existential one: if we don’t utterly crushingly triumph at all times, Israel itself will be wiped from the map! And thus, anyone who opposes any part of brutally crushing military tyranny is obviously actively helping to wipe Israel of the map. The only reason to aid such a thing, obviously, is that such a person must hate the very idea of Israel even existing. Ergo: self-hating Jews.

      It makes a sick kind of logical sense, but requires a lot of Kool-Aid to have been imbibed before pontificating. It hijacks Zionism and makes authoritarian fundamentalist claims on it: anyone who isn’t a hardcore maximalist settler supporter clearly isn’t a *real* Zionist, after all 😉

    • I am finally getting to this, and I’m so sorry it’s taken me so long! And of course in the meantime, Darth totally answered the question. I went on a rant about the use and mis-use of the word awhile ago — if you’d like to read more on it, here’s that: https://emilylhauserinmyhead.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/why-i-still-call-myself-a-zionist/

  7. dmf

     /  October 28, 2011

    All Torah’s Paths are Paths of Peace – Prayer Reflection

    True peace cannot be found on a one-way street.
    It’s a bit more real on a single line rail tracks
    If there are turn asides to let trains pass.
    Four way intersections train us to take turns.
    Stop signs and traffic lights and turning lanes and rest stops promote real peace.
    Good rules and good feelings and a little sense
    Make for safe driving.
    But true peace can only be found when traffic moves smoothly
    Through a crowed city,
    Or quickly down an eight lane freeway.
    No grid jams, no fender benders, no blasting of horns
    Granting the right of way, being alert, forgiving others,
    Both hands on the wheel and not riding the brakes
    Moving together, not bumping each other on our different journeys
    To the same final goal
    That’s peace
    That’s coming home.

    Lewis Eron

  8. I share a lot of traits with you. I can’t currently live in Israel because like you have a major issues with the government policies. I too call myself a Zionist, but, like I would if my uncle was doing something stupid I can both love him and criticize him. Israel needs a Jewish voice asking them to stop certain policies that are not only hurtful to their Arab neighbors but I believe to themselves. But that doesn’t mean we can’t hold the people in Gaza and the West Bank responsible for their own actions. I remember walking along the security fence (which is mostly a fence though we normally see the wall in places like Bethlehem) and there were two emotions. One was how terrible it was, but then the echo of the voice of someone from Jerusalem who say the fence as a way to stop the daily bombings in Israel. The wall worked where the PA failed.

    I long for a day when Palestinians can have their own nation in their land as a safe neighbor to a vibrant country of Israel. Where Jews and Muslims and Christians can all practice their faith without fear and danger. I used to expect it in my lifetime but today I am not sure.

    And by the way, I am quite certain I am a thoughtful and good Jew.